You know the feeling I'm talking about right? How would you describe that physical sensation in your body?
Now, would you ignore that feeling because you heard somewhere that you should only pee at certain times of the day? You could, but you'd probably end up with wet underwear and a urinary tract infection!
That sensation of having to pee is one of the more obvious examples of interoceptive awareness.
"Interoceptive awareness is the direct experience of your physical body. Being attuned to these sensations gives you powerful information into your physiological and psychological state, which can help determine what you need to do in order to meet you needs."
- The Intuitive Eating Workbook, Tribole & Resch
In last week's post, we talked about the inaccuracies of food sensitivity testing. The biggest problem with these tests as well as the elimination diets that usually follow them (or any diet for that matter), is that they attempt to override your bodies interoceptive awareness - leaving you second guessing what your body needs for health and vitality.
The same is true about being able to notice your subtle hunger signals. If you've been on diets for many years, following rules about restricting foods or eating times (hello intermittent fasting), you've learned to not trust your bodily cues around needing food. You might wait to eat until your absolutely starving, which can lead to over shooting your fullness cues (food comma anyone?).
So how can you regain your interoceptive awareness around food and how food feels in your body? One helpful activity is to practice perceiving your heart rate. Researchers have shown that people who can more easily perceive their heart rate, without actually taking their pulse, are also more likely to feed their body based on subtle internal cues.
Do try this at home...
Find a comfortable seat in a quite space. Take a few deep breaths.
Then find your pulse and count your heart beats for 30 seconds. Jot that number down.
Take a few more deep breaths.
Now, holding your hands in your lap, see if you can perceive your heart beating - without actually using your fingers on your pulse.
Count the heart beats you perceive for 30 seconds. Compare that number to your first count of heart beats.
Were they similar? Close? Way far off? Or you couldn't perceive your heart beating at all?
There's no judgement either way and give yourself compassion around how difficult this exercise is.
The point is, the closer your actual heart beat and perceive heart beat counts are, the more likely you are to be more attuned to other subtle body cues - in other words, honoring your bodies needs based on your interoceptive awareness.
You can also practice increasing your interoceptive awareness through meditation. I'm currently test-driving the Headspace and Calm apps to explore the mediation-habit-world. Any activity that allows you to tune out the world and tune in with physical sensations in your body will support increasing your interoceptive awareness.
Oh, I think there's a new mantra there...tune out, breath in, to tune in, breath out...tune out, breath in, to tune in, breath out...repeat.